Joseph; Judah and Tamar, by Melissa Gibbs
Joseph; Judah and Tamar, Genesis 37-39


What a change from yesterday when the reading was a little dry and uneventful! I don't know where to start! I'm actually not going to focus on Joseph, as his story is one that most of us are very familiar with and one that raises few questions or conflicts. It is fairly obvious why he is disliked by his older brothers. He is clearly the favorite, he tattles on their wrong-doings, and brags about his "visions of greatness". Fortunately, there was at least one voice of reason in the lynch-mob of brothers who sought to kill him, otherwise we may not have the stellar example of faith and perseverance, trust and patience, that we see in Joseph's story. As we leave him today, Joseph has been sold into slavery and then wrongly accused of a crime by his master's wife. The real meat of his story is found in tomorrow's reading.

The story of Tamar... Remembering the lengths to which Lot's daughters were willing to go in order to have children, sheds some light on Tamar's situation. In this ancient patriarchal society, a woman's highest aspiration was having children. Inheritances and land were allotted to a man's children, not to his wife. If a woman was widowed without any children, she had no means of support, nor did she own any land. Her husband's estate reverted to his brothers. Unless a woman died before her husband, being childless meant eventual destitution. After witnessing the destruction of their entire town (and all eligible bachelors within), Lot's daughters were desperate to get pregnant for this very reason. After marrying two men who refused to father children for her and waiting in vain for a third marriage opportunity, Tamar was also desperate.

After the death of Er, Onan stood to inherit the "double portion" allotted to the firstborn and probably did not want to produce an heir for his dead brother, thereby handing over the inheritance bonus back to that child. Shelah was not offered to Tamar in marriage because Judah had begun to associate Tamar with the deaths of his two sons and feared the same fate may befall his third son, (vs. 38:11). She wore widow's clothing for YEARS while waiting for Judah to make good on the promise of this third marriage. It was this type of situation that brought about the Levirite marriage law, which stated that a widow's brother-in-law must marry her to provide an heir for the deceased man, in order that his share of the land allotment would be secured. I was troubled that God could require a man, potentially a married man, to take an additional wife, under any circumstances. I can see how the arrangement protected women who had no inheritance rights at that time, but still, it just doesn't fit with God's desire for purity in marriage. So I did some research and found the following explanation...

"What must be understood is that God's allowance of something and even His requirement of it in exceptional circumstances is NOT incompatible with it being "wrong" in the vast majority of cases.
Obviously, polygamy was 'authorized' (the Mosaic law specifically refers to it) and 'demanded' (especially in the case of levirite marriage), but this doesn't mean that it is something God wants us to do, except in extreme situations (e.g., the provision of a supportless-widow of kin, in a specific society tied to a genealogically-based land inheritance economy).
A good way to illustrate this is from a very similar marital topic--divorce.
Divorce was "authorized" in the Mosaic Law (Deut 24), and "demanded" in the case of the returned exiles (Ezra 10). But it is crystal clear that divorce is:
Hated by God (Mal 2.16)
Prohibited by Jesus, except in extreme situations (Matt 19).
Permitted by God because of human failings (i.e., hardness of heart--Mt 19.8).
What this means for OUR discussion is that one must look at the more "principle-like" statements about a topic, for guidance as to what the will and heart of God is about a subject, rather than the exceptions in history (e.g., permissions, extreme circumstances). The statements of principle about polygamy (discussed above)--like the statements of principle about divorce-- indicate the behavioral norm that we are to follow. The exceptions in history to those overarching statements of principle and life are just that--exceptions, called forth by either extreme situations or called forth by our own moral weakness (e.g. hardness of heart). "

Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 40-41

About Melissa Gibbs:


Melissa is the mother of four boys and the wife of her junior high sweetheart, JD.  He is the President of Joe Gibbs Racing and the son of NFL Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.  JD and Melissa have been married 16 years and are actively involved with Young Life, Motor Racing Outreach, their church, and other ministries.  Their youngest son Taylor is nearing completion of a 3 year treatment protocol for leukemia, which has been a powerful faith walk for their family.  Since his diagnosis, Melissa has been called upon to share their family's testimony with many local churches. Much of her energy is now focused on a huge festival planned for mid May in celebration of Taylor's victory over leukemia and in effort to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer.  If you'd like to check out what she's up to while not blogging, go to


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